iPhone SE 2020 Review: is the most affordable iPhone the best iPhone?

Coming in at Dh1699, the Apple iPhone SE attacks a smartphone segment they've never been in and face some heavy competition

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Last month Apple announced the iPhone SE 2020 version. After four years of anticipation, Apple’s affordable device is back. The new iPhone SE comes with the power of the A13 Bionic chip (the same as the iPhone 11 series) but an older iPhone 8 body. It costs just Dh1699 but does it sacrifice too much?

Apple iPhone SE 2020 – Specifications

Before we jump into the review of the new affordable iPhone, let’s look at some specifications shall we?

Capacity64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Display4.7″ IPS LCD display (1330×750, 326ppi)
ProcessorA13 Bionic Chip
RAM3GB
ResistanceIP67 water and dust resistance
Rear Camera12MP, f/1.8, 4K (upto 60fps)
Front Camera7MP, f/2.2
OSiOS 13
Battery1821 mAh
SIMDual SIM (One SIM, One e-SIM)
Charging18W charging (not included in the box), Qi Wireless Charging

Display, Design and Body

When you first get your hands on the iPhone SE 2020, there might be only one major reason you’ll be happy; it’s a small phone. Apart from that, it’s an updated iPhone 8. The phone’s dimensions are 138mm x 67.3mm x 7.3mm making it pretty much one of the best (and only) small phones on the market right now. Its super slim and you can barely feel it in your pocket. Both sides of the new iPhone SE are glass with an aluminium body on the sides. The Apple logo is not on the center of the back matching the other iPhones currently available from Apple.

No Face ID on the iPhone SE. It’s back to good old Touch ID!

The iPhone SE comes in 3 colours, namely black, white and (Product)Red. All three versions come with a black front, making the (Product)Red the hottest one available according to me. Another great thing about the iPhone SE (Product)Red is that a portion of the purchase goes towards the Global Fund against COVID 19.

The display is the same Retine HD 4.7″ IPS LCD as on the iPhone 8. It’s got a screen resolution of 1334×750 (326 ppi) which means its not even FULL HD but it does a decent job. Sun-light legibility is acceptable thanks to the display’s 625 nit max brightness. The display being better would’ve definitely made this a much more worthy purchase than it is considering that competitors in this price range are offering FHD+ display at the minimum. The display is relatively small with huge bezels on the sides and a massive forehead and chin for the speakers, sensors and selfie camera on the front and Touch ID sensor on the bottom respectively.

Apple iPhone SE display
The display on the iPhone SE isn’t Full HD but it does a decent job

Now while the front of the new iPhone SE isn’t exactly 2020, it offers something almost no device in the price range (and higher even) offers. Easy reachability. The phone is nimble and tiny and easy to use with one hand. You can get from corner to corner without struggling even a bit.

The body is also IP67 water and dust resistant, so you definitely don’t have to worry about accidental splashes and dips which is great.

All that power on the daily

Now this is what you’re paying money for. The iPhone SE 2020 might look old but as far as what’s inside, its not even close to it. Apple might have skimped on the looks of this device, but as far as what’s inside (which is what will come most useful in the long run) you’re getting your hands on the best.

The iPhone SE 2020 comes packing the A13 Bionic chipset and 3GB of RAM. The A13 Bionic is the same chipset found in the SE’s elder siblings from the iPhone 11 series. I’ve been using the iPhone SE as my work phone for two weeks now and it has been nothing short of excellent. Multi-tasking between Outlook and MS teams is a breeze. Social media apps like Instagram, Facebook and Tiktok work smooth and with no hiccups whatsoever. Just for the kick of it, I even tried using Lumafusion (a pretty spec’d video-editing app) on the phone and while it was tough on the small display, the app worked smooth and rendering was easy and quick.

Browsing through everything from Youtube to mails, Instagram to Words with Friends, the A13 Bionic blazes on the iPhone SE

Thanks to iOS 13, working with my MacBook or iPad is obviously easier with an iPhone SE as my work phone. If like me you’re invested in the Apple ecosystem, the SE will be a great addition to your devices and will make work and play between the two seamless. The A13 Bionic and iOS are the two biggest selling points of the iPhone SE 2020.

As far as storage is concerned, the iPhone SE 2020 starts at 64GB and moves up to 128GB and 256GB options.

One camera, all alone

Rear Camera

Now the main single camera on the back of the iPhone SE 2020 is a 12MP (f/1.8) sensor with the 5X digital zoom, OIS and can shoot up to 4K 60fps. As far as images are concerned, in day-lit or well-kit indoor situations, the camera performs really well. Colours are natural and Smart HDR gives them that nice boost we all look for in our images. As you’ll see in the sample images of the flowers, detail is great too.

iPhone SE camera

As you move indoors or into low-light situations, the camera begins to struggle a bit. Detail and colour accuracy drop a bit but it’s not like the images are unusable. Night shots is where things get pretty bad (considering where smartphone photography stands right now). A night-mode on the iPhone SE would really help the camera in this department. As far as competition is concerned at this price range, almost all devices offer night-mode now. I really do hope the iPhone SE receives an update with the same in the near future but for now this is where it is.

Now the biggest trump of the rear sensor is its 4K video at 60 frames per second. There’s pretty much no smartphone camera at this price range which can delivery the same quality and stabilisation and if you’re looking to create content or use social media heavily, this should be a huge factor for you.

Front Camera

The front snapper on the iPhone SE 2020 is the same old 7MP (f/2.2) sensor the 8 and its predecessors had but with software tweaks enabling portrait mode and its effects like High-Key Mono, Studio Lighting, etc.

Again here too. The camera performs decently when there’s light and video (only at Full HD) is good too. So you shouldn’t be too worried about how you’ll look on your Instagram or Tiktok profile.

Small phone, small battery

Now in a world where every phone from the most basic smartphone to the flagships have 3000+ mAh batteries, the iPhone SE comes with the same 1821mAh battery from its iPhone 8 predecessor.

Now on one hand, thanks to iPhones coming with heavily optimised software and hardware, their battery-life has always been decent. But in 2020, decent might not be enough for everyone. Social media apps such Instagram, Facebook and Tiktok as well as video-calling apps such as Zoom and MS Teams are huge battery consumers.

iPhone SE Charging
It’s great to have 18W charging on the phone but really unfortunate that you don’t get the 18W charging brick in the box

Now while the new iPhone SE comes with capability for 18W fast-charging, in classic Apple style you only get a 5W charging brick in the box. The phone also comes capable for wireless charging which is great for someone like me who has wireless chargers all over his house.

So should you get the iPhone SE 2020?

If you consider getting the new iPhone SE with higher storage and are considering paying Dh2329 (for the 256GB version), things get a little complicated. Android offerings such as the OnePlus 7T Pro provide heavy competition with great modern displays, triple and quad camera setups, huge batteries, regular Android OS updates and more. If you insistantly want to go Apple but want a more modern body, even the iPhone XS and XR are available at similar prices.

But at Dh1699, the new Apple iPhone SE is probably one of the best smartphones you can get your hands on. It has a flagship processor matched by almost nothing else as far as competition is concerned. Its easy access to the Apple ecosystem too and is guaranteed updates for a few years at the least. The phone would be great for small phone enthusiasts, people who need a smartphone that will work for at least 36 months or even youngsters getting their first devices.